Driving towards Arthurs Pass

Driving in New Zealand

some advice from resident seasoned road trippers.

Driving in New Zealand – some advice from resident seasoned road trippers.

For those visitors from European, American and some Asian left hand driving countries, welcome, but please remember at all times New Zealand vehicles are right hand drive and  drive on the left side of the road.. If you as the driver are sitting to the left of road centre then your vehicle is in the correct position. The most dangerous time for International left hand drivers is leaving a carpark and entering mainstream traffic inadvertently turning the wrong way, to the right into oncoming traffic.


If you have rented or purchased an older vehicle, car, people mover or camper check it is 100% road worthy and make sure it has a serviceable spare tyre with associated wheel changing gear. Insurance is always a good idea and whilst not mandatory for driving on New Zealand roads a minimum of third party insurance is a very advisable precaution.

For campers – freedom camping, whilst possible in some parts of New Zealand is not encouraged and in certain areas not safe. A much better choice is to pay the small fee and check into a recognised camping ground, of which there are many throughout New Zealand.  These usually are situated in scenic spots, have good facilities and helpful people are there too. Joining the Motor Caravan Assoc is a good plan.


New Zealand, both North and South Islands are a feast of natural beauty and there is nothing better than the grand road trip. But, our roads are not great, with many so-called state highways, narrow and poorly maintained. This, ‘poor maintenance’ is not so much neglect but  challenging terrain and remoteness. Slips, washouts and falling debris are constant threats with keeping affected routes open to traffic not constantly possible.  Always check your route before departure. There are usually alternative ways to reach your destination but these will inevitably entail a much longer journey. Even a main route between A and B may be a distance of 500kms. So 5 hours driving at the maximum speed limit (100kph). Of course this is never possible and in reality the route may be mountainous with many kilometres of tortuous hairpin bends bringing your average speed down to 35kph extending your driving time for this route from 5 hours to more like 10 hours. It is very important to make these allowances and realise it may take more than the daylight available to reach your destination.


If your time in New Zealand is limited then do less and enjoy it more. It is a terrible feeling to be constantly late  due to unrealistic drives This can easily happen to European and American visitors who may be used to high speed auto routes connecting cities. These really don’t exist in New Zealand. Major cities do have motorways (mainly freeways) commencing 30 to 50kms outside city limits however these become heavily congested at peak hours. 6am – 9am and again 3pm – 6pm.  Although many rural roads are signed at 100kph speed limit, this is almost never achievable and if attempted will lead to a serious crash with possible loss of life. The most important consideration is to drive to the conditions presented on the day. Should you find that you cannot reach your destination in the time frame you have allowed it is better to break your journey early and carry on the next day. Many routes in both Islands are mountainous and subject to quickly changing weather conditions. Mountains attract cloud and heavy rain, snow in the more alpine areas causing road closures for safety, sometimes suddenly and without notice. Check the weather before the journey. Cellphone coverage can be unreliable or non-existent in remote locations. Day walks in good weather can be some of the most enjoyable experiences but please remember to make them safe by being well equipped and informing the local Police or Conservation office of your intentions.


Heavy vehicle movements are a constant feature on New Zealand roads. We are big exporters of logs and moving these from the remote forests to a rail head or port involves many trucks with log jinkers on behind. All up loaded, these units weigh in excess of 50 tonnes. Inadvertantly losing concentration and crossing the centre line to the right on a blind bend with a log truck coming the other way is almost certainly curtains.


So, the important points are: 1) check the route before travelling 2) be over realistic about travelling times, 3) be as certain and as prepared as possible about route weather  conditions and 4) Thoroughly check your vehicle’s mechanical condition.

Good luck and please enjoy all that our beautiful New Zealand has to offer. If you think I can help you in any way please get in touch.


Alex Donald.